A 3D Animation Reveals What Paris Looked Like When It Was a Roman Town

The stan­dard tour of Paris feels like a jour­ney back through time: the Eif­fel Tow­er stands for the eigh­teen-eight­ies, the Arc de Tri­om­phe for the turn of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, Les Invalides for the turn of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry, Notre-Dame for the mid-four­teenth cen­tu­ry, Sainte-Chapelle for the mid-thir­teenth cen­tu­ry, and so on. But of course, this is much too sim­ple a way of see­ing it, since so many of France’s his­tor­i­cal land­marks have been repeat­ed­ly expand­ed, ren­o­vat­ed, or mod­i­fied over the cen­turies. (The Lou­vre, for exam­ple, bog­gles the mind with not just its sheer scale, but also the span of eras embod­ied by its con­struc­tion.)

Paris’ his­to­ry also goes much deep­er than many tourists imag­ine. To dis­cov­er it, they must go deep­er in a lit­er­al sense, down into the Crypte Arche­ologique de l’île de la Cité. Con­ve­nient­ly locat­ed right next to Notre-Dame, this under­ground muse­um con­tains arti­facts of the city as it was 2,000 years ago, when it was a rel­a­tive­ly mod­est Gal­lo-Roman town called Lute­tia, or in French, Lutèce.

On dis­play there as well are some of the ani­ma­tions seen in the video above, which recon­struct Lutèce at the height of the Roman Empire in 3D. The aer­i­al view it pro­vides shows the Ile de la Cité, rec­og­niz­able today in form but not func­tion: 1,300 years before the com­ple­tion of Notre-Dame, it had yet even to be occu­pied by the fortress of its Roman gov­er­nor.

Long gone is the dom­i­nant fea­ture of Lutèce’s built envi­ron­ment: its Roman forum, which was locat­ed on a choice piece of real estate between the cur­rent Boule­vard Saint-Michel and Rue Saint-Jacques. But one impor­tant frag­ment of Luté­cien pub­lic life does sur­vive: the Arènes de Lutèce, l’orgueil de la cité, which host­ed spec­ta­cles both reli­gious and impe­r­i­al, as well as no few glad­i­a­to­r­i­al con­tests. In this longer broad­cast of Des Racines et des Ailes, you can see the 3D recon­struc­tion of the amphithe­ater woven in with footage of its remains as they look in the mod­ern day. Fran­coph­o­nes should note that it also includes an inter­view with Sylvie Robin, a con­ser­va­tor from the Musée Car­navalet — anoth­er essen­tial des­ti­na­tion for any­one with a seri­ous inter­est in Parisian time trav­el.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Roman Roads of Gaul Visu­al­ized as a Mod­ern Sub­way Map

Take an Aer­i­al Tour of Medieval Paris

A 3D Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Paris: Take a Visu­al Jour­ney from Ancient Times to 1900

Paris in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images from 1890: The Eif­fel Tow­er, Notre Dame, The Pan­théon, and More (1890)

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 CE: Explore Stun­ning Recre­ations of The Forum, Colos­se­um and Oth­er Mon­u­ments

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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